[Feature] Reimi is Unbreakable: Female empowerment in Diamond is Unbreakable

SPOILERS: major spoilers for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki is not exactly a conventional shonen manga. The series, which turns 30 this year, tells the multi-generational epic of the Joestar family and the strange – one might even say bizarre – supernatural forces that touch their lives. The first three arcs featured heroes clashing over the fate of humanity in exotic locales such as Egypt and Peru. The fourth arc, Diamond is Unbreakable, breaks from that tone with a suburban horror tale featuring Josuke Higashikata, the product of Joseph Joestar’s extramarital affair, in the sleepy seaside suburb Morioh.

Morioh has had a sudden rash of its citizens developing superpowers known as Stands, which can make ordinary events like a girl developing a crush, going out for lunch, or even pest control terrifying ordeals; when serial killer Yoshikage Kira develops these powers, he becomes nigh-unstoppable. Suburban horror plays on the anxieties of people living in these quiet communities, and as such, they tend to focus on the victimization of women. By making Kira’s first victim, Reimi Sugimoto, an active player in the story through the final act, Araki reverses that victimization and turns into something far more empowering.

Reimi, with bobbed pink hair and a sundress, appears in her alley with her dog.

The ghost in the alley

In her earliest introduction, Reimi calls herself a jibakurei – a yuurei, a kind of Japanese ghost, bound to a specific location until a certain condition is met. As suburban horror, an essential element of Diamond is Unbreakable is making a familiar setting feel strange and unsettling, accomplished not just through the writing but also the art design, with yellow skies, purple vegetation, and green roads. Reimi, on the other hand, trades the traditional wild black hair and long white robes for a pink bob and a pink sundress.

When they first encounter her, Rohan Kishibe uses his Stand Heaven’s Door to read her memories, and unlike most people they’ve met, her memories are that of an ordinary teenage girl – her first period, a boy forcing his tongue in her mouth for her first kiss. Her normalcy feels out of place in a setting that trades on nothing being quite right, down to her cheerful demeanor and penchant for fortune-telling using pocky. Despite her approachable appearance, she is very much a yuurei – she cannot leave her alleyway until her murderer is caught and brought to justice, which introduces the main conflict, the battle against Kira, into the plot.

Reimi, trapped between life and death, exists in a liminal space she cannot exit. She is unable to do anything on her own, yet she draws in anyone who is on a “similar wavelength” to her in an attempt to warn them of the conflict, thus pulling in Josuke’s friends Koichi and Rohan. Her alley next to the convenience store Owson’s, usually hidden, is not a place people merely stumble on – she is making a constant, concerted effort to find someone who can finish what she cannot and protect Morioh from this constant looming menace.

Even at the end of her life, she wasn’t just a victim – at the end of the episode, Koichi and Rohan visit her grave and discover that her final act was to push Rohan out the window when Kira attacked. Rohan says, “There’s something admirable about how that ghost lives… She’s been fighting for fifteen years, alone, for the sake of the living.” The story frames Reimi’s continued existence as tragic, yes, but also heroic. Instead of dwelling on her victimhood, the characters draw inspiration from her determination to stop the villain menacing the town.

Underscoring her continuing importance in the story, she figures prominently in the show’s opening theme song, “Great Days”. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure theme songs feature visuals that heavily foreshadow plot beats from the upcoming arc, so Reimi’s position in the opening indicates her importance to the climax. At the line, “Let the voice of love take you higher,” her finger points upward, and is joined by the fingers of the rest of the cast. The final image, the one that sets the tone for the upcoming episodes, is her standing in the foreground against a backdrop of a golden gear that says “Justice” and Josuke and his friends’ Stands. She is in an elevated position with her faithful dog Arnold by her side and the rest of the cast surrounding her. Her prominence sends the message that this is her story just as much, if not more, than the living characters, and she refuses to be written out. For the satisfying, uplifting conclusion that the song and its accompanying visuals promise, she must be afforded the opportunity to take charge.

A stylised image of Reimi's killer, in a suit with a briefcase, following her as she walks down the street.

The horror of the mundane

As an untraceable serial killer, Yoshikage Kira is the ultimate suburban nightmare. When he developed his own Stand, he was granted the ability to combust anything he wanted. This provided him with an incredibly convenient way to dispose of the bodies of his victims. He keeps a hand to carry around and buy gifts and spoil as his “girlfriend”, and burns up the rest; when the hand begins to ripen, he burns that as well and searches for a new victim.

In the tradition of suburban horror, he tends to select women who act out; the classic “first victim” of slasher films tends to be sexually active couples, and Kira targets spoiled, materialistic women, such as one he overheard complaining that her boyfriend didn’t buy her a sufficiently opulent ring. He picks his victims deliberately and with care, but without a body, they can only be classified as “missing”; in this way, he has murdered dozens of women in fifteen years.

Much of the suburban ethos has to do with creating a safe haven for families, particularly for women and children, and protecting them from outside threats in well-protected homes. However, Kira represents the unthinkable possibility that not only are those women unsafe, but the threat is coming within this supposed haven and is undetectable. His preferred victims are women, but he thinks nothing of going after children – his first on-screen victim is a particularly childlike middle schooler.

Not only does Kira utterly destroy the evidence, but he also is the embodiment of the sentiment, “It’s never the ones you suspect.” He does his best to make himself as unremarkable as possible. He declines to go out with his coworkers and one of them remarks, “…He doesn’t have any passion. He’s not a bad guy, but he just doesn’t stand out very much.” He’s quiet and keeps to himself and doesn’t appear to have any hobbies; there’s no reason to suspect that his sole interest would be murdering and dismembering women. He claims to want a “quiet life”, the same thing everyone who has elected to live in a suburban community wants, doesn’t seem to be aware that by living out his desires, he is infringing on other people’s right to quiet lives of their own. As a child, his parents, aware of his inclinations, spoiled him and indulged his tendencies, protecting him from the world rather than the other way around. He is the lurking menace, the one no one would ever suspect, the danger coming in from one’s own community.

Reimi stands with her back to her killer as he is grabbed up by long, inhuman arms from above.

Let the voice of love take you higher

Diamond is Unbreakable brings Yoshikage Kira to a poetic end in the finale by drawing Reimi back into the story, as promised. The standard climax to a shounen action series like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure involves the protagonist getting in the final blow against the Big Bad; Diamond is Unbreakable does not go that way. Instead, it revolves around ironic punishment. Kira, seriously wounded, attempts to activate his time-travel powers to go back before his confrontation with Josuke and his friends, and finds himself whole and healthy on an unfamiliar street. He’s convinced he won until he meets Reimi, who says, “It’s finally over, isn’t it? They finally cornered you, Yoshikage Kira.” Although taking his actual life was outside the realm of possibility for her, Reimi can confront Kira in his final moments before moving on.

For fifteen years, Reimi has acted as an unwilling psychopomp, watching and weeping as Kira’s countless victims pass through her alley on their way to the afterlife, too traumatized by their violent deaths to speak. She has been alone in her pain, forced to relive her own death by seeing others who have gone through the same thing, over and over. Now here stands Kira himself, who has experienced a death so violent and traumatic that he doesn’t even remember it. To add insult to injury, he doesn’t even remember murdering her.

She is not here to comfort him, though. She is no longer the peaceful psychopomp, here to usher him into the afterlife. Now she stands in front of him, his first victim, in all her vengeful yuurei glory. She forces him to confront what happened – as he lay bleeding in the street, mortally wounded by a blow from Jotaro’s Stand before he could leap back in time, a female EMT came to rescue him. He told her his life story and the history of his crimes before licking her hand. The final blow was delivered not by Josuke or one of his friends, but an ambulance backing over his head. The fight between Josuke and Kira was not a personal grudge match; rather, it was about the harm he has done to the community, so it’s fitting that a community resource was what eventually killed him.

It also adds a sense of power and vindication to Reimi’s final confrontation with Kira; his death may have been ultimately accidental by an anonymous person, but she is truly the one who gets to finish him, instead of it being an epilogue, a coda to Josuke or one of his male friends delivering the final blow.The whole thing adds to a fantastically empowering conclusion; despite struggling through years of near-helplessness and victimization, she can face and confront her attacker in a position where she holds the power, wrapping his life of doing harm around and bringing it around full circle.

The layers of irony continue to be added on as Reimi’s dog Arnold, who has waited by her side in limbo, bites off Kira’s hand, and hundreds of hands appear to pull him and his Stand to pieces. Kira, who has stolen women’s hands for years and blown apart many others since he developed his Stand months ago, now faces the same fate. “Where are they going to take me?” he cries out, and Reimi, stone-faced, replies, “Who knows? But I’m sure it’s not somewhere you’ll be able to rest in peace.” Kira gets no peaceful conclusion; he doesn’t deserve it.

Reimi, however, has finally gained passage into the afterlife. Yuurei only cling to the world of living in order to see their desires satisfied; now that Kira has been stopped once and for all, Reimi can move on. As she and Arnold stand next to the Owson’s, finally able to leave their alley, the town’s odd coloration shifts toward warmer, more sunset-like tones. The town’s Stand users come out to wish her a tearful farewell, and Koichi says he feels nervous with her gone. However, her job is done; she has not just been avenged, but has avenged herself. As she ascends, Koichi tells her, “Because of you, this town has been saved.” She replies, “I believed we all saved Morioh together.”

Close-up of Reimi's face as she looks wide-eyed and pensive.

In fiction, suburbs can be characterized as enhancing a sense of isolation, but in Diamond is Unbreakable, it was the sense of community that brought them all together and saved them. Reimi, trapped and alone, had no way to defeat Kira on her own. Instead, Kira’s defeat hinged on the community coming together and believing in a teenage girl; instead of making the show about a few men rescuing her, the community aspect afforded her the opportunity to see Kira’s reign of terror through from beginning to end. The show concludes with a monologue from Koichi: “Our town, Morioh, was deeply hurt. The town was hurt by the monster named Yoshikage Kira that this town itself had created.” The dark side of suburban life – insulated and coddled – created Kira, like so many other villains of suburban horror. However, the positive aspects of community and love made it possible to defeat him. Reimi, in her refusal to be a mere victim, inspired her community; in turn, her community made it possible for her to bring her own story to conclusion. Her self-determination, even in the face of victimhood, is truly inspirational and empowering.

 

Caitlin Moore is a Seattle-based preschool teacher and amateur critic with an academic background in linguistics and Japanese language and culture. She runs the blog heroineproblem.com and can be reached on Twitter at @alltsun_nodere.

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  • galliath

    Love JoJo, though it can be problematic at times. Can’t wait for part 6 to be adapted! 🙂

  • Gotta love this arc! Thanks for writing about Jojo!!!

  • Gattsu

    Thanks for this! I always enjoy reading this sort of writing about JoJo.

  • baptisms

    👏 YES 👏 THE 👏 JOJO 👏 CONTENT 👏 IS 👏 HERE 👏

    I’ve written a bit about the role of women in JoJo on my own blog (http://thelilinblog.tumblr.com/post/147610099118/for-a-manga-series-thats-been-running-since-1986), and while it doesn’t have the BEST track record in terms of positive female representation (Vento Aureo has ONE FEMALE CHARACTER OF NOTE, although Trish is cool as hell), Araki’s made significant progress over the years. I also think there’s a conversation to be had about how JoJo’s universe and storytelling-style operate on the suspension of disbelief, to the extent that things are very “campy,” and I specifically have this mind when I think of Yukako Yamagishi, because despite the reality that her character is introduced as an obsessive, stalker-yandere (although I’m pretty sure Yukako precedes the term “yandere”), we get this fairy-tale-esque redemption arc where she actually ends up with Koichi. But I’ll save that for another future article.

    But Reimi deserves SO MUCH MORE LOVE AND RESPECT FROM THE JOJO FANDOM. Her role in DiU is so crucial, but I actually didn’t really stop and think about how she turns her tragedy on its head to eventually see Kira brought to justice. And I think that has a lot to do with her being less of an “active” type of hero compared to fighter-types like Lisa Lisa or stand users like Yukako and Jolyne. Then there’s the intersecting conversation about violence against women and its thematic role in suburban horror. In all honesty I do wish DiU had put more focus on the gendered aspects of Kira’s reign of terror in Morioh (and explored his sick entitlement to women’s bodies…er…hands), but I’m a sucker for that Lynchian/Persona 4/Stephen-King-style suburban horror.

    Anyways thanks Caitlin for bringing JoJo to AniFem! I’m so happy someone else is into looking at JoJo through a feminist/gendered lens.

    • Caitlin

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I love your blog, by the way.

      I really love Jojo for this sort of meta stuff! The action is fun and everything, but I think there’s a lot more depth to the series than a lot of people give it credit for. From the very start I was fascinated by things like the generational aspect and how you can see the characters change as they move from one phase of their life to another. Stuff like how sweet Erina became a hard, angry old woman after losing her husband, her son, and her daughter-in-law to supernatural forces and had to raise a real shithead of a grandson by herself. Like how dumbass hothead Joseph had a daughter fairly young and clearly doted on her. Like how Josuke goes icy when he’s angry (about something other than his hair) like his grandmother. I think people get focused on the action and end up missing out on all the really well-written, character-driven elements to the show. If they DO try to look at it through a feminist/gendered perspective, they get hung up on the numerous “problematic” elements – which, you know, is fair because they can get really cringey – and miss out on the nuggets of really great themes the series has to offer.

      • baptisms

        And I think that’s the real charm of a generational-driven narrative; you can keep making call-backs to previous, much beloved characters through shared quirks. This is especially true of Jolyne. Obviously, she resembles her father the most, but she’s also clever like her great grandfather Joseph and assertive like her great great grandmother Lisa Lisa.

        But the brilliance of a story like JoJo is that we essentially get to see a different incarnation of a “hero” each arc. Each JoJo has a specific goal/thing they want to protect, so in many ways JoJo is a character study on the qualities that make a shounen-style hero.

  • Ivan

    Kira is stated to have killed around 50 people by the end of the series. He’s not the sort of disturbed person who needs to be kept around. However, the majority of the antagonists in this part of the series end up being redeemed and help out the heroes by the end. The only ones who die are the ones who were unrepentant murderers and/or active allies of Kira.